POACHERS are being targetted by police in rural areas of East Lancashire.

It comes after two men were handed hefty fines after pleading guilty to hunting animals with dogs in Chipping.

Officers are warning residents to be on the look out for suspicious behaviour and to report it to them.

Around 500 people from rural communities have also signed up to Lancashire police’s In The Know service because of the issue, with more being encouraged to join.

Through the service police and other agencies in the county can send out free messages with useful information and warnings about crimes happening in specific areas as well as appeals for help.

Ribble Valley wildlife officer Carl Chew said warning letters were also being sent out to people suspected of being involved in poaching as part of Operation Sika, which has been running since 2008.

He said: “We are taking a tough stance on this type of rural crime, with joint patrols with partner agencies, land owners and gamekeepers taking place.

“Part of the issue is that you do not know what you are getting if you buy this kind of meat.

“There might not have been the proper checks done on it to make sure it has not got and diseases, worms or TB that could be passed on to humans.”

He added that meat was often sold to restaurants, hotels and pubs.

The main type of deer found in East Lancasire is the roe deer and there are now believed to be hundreds living wild. There are also sika and red deer.

In the latest court cases, Carl Harwood, 18, of Fielden Street, and Alexander Judge, 19, of Harling Street, both Burnley, appeared before the courts charged with hunting a wild animal with a dog in Chipping.

They were each fined £400 plus court costs.

PC Chew said officers would continue to target those believed to be poaching. He said: “When we stop people and they are in possession of high-powered lamping equipment and hunting dogs, this obviously arouses suspicion that they may be poaching or illegally hunting.

“In the case mentioned, the officer found no game, but this is common for this type of crime, as it will often be left to be collected the next day, or just dumped on the land, so offenders are not caught red-handed.

“Warning letters will continue to be issued to people suspected of being involved in poaching.”

Anybody concerned about poaching should call or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.